Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spaghetti Squash and Chard Gratin

Cooking lulls me into complacency; it makes me focus only on what I'm doing, which is great as I'm notorious for over analyzing. Unfortunately this means there are problematic cooking time warps where "suddenly" it is 12:30 am, I have to be up by 7 am, and my adapted version Spaghetti Squash and Chard Gratin is still cooking.

I suspect part of the issue may be that I confuse simple vs. quick recipes. This gratin is really simple to put together but there are numerous steps and longer cooking times, so it takes a few hours and is not quick.

It isn't pretty but this dish is worth the time as long as you can handle the slightly stringy texture of spaghetti squash. It is creamy, warm and filling yet still healthy! I found myself eating portions for breakfast all week as it reminded me of a crustless quiche for some reason. I loved that Kalyn added Swiss Chard as I always mean to eat it but haven't acquired a taste for it.

Spaghetti Squash and Chard Gratin
(Makes about 6 servings, recipe created by Kalyn with inspiration from Spaghetti Squash Gratin at Daily Unadventures in Cooking.)

1 large spaghetti squash (mine was 2.5 lbs)
1 T + 1 T olive oil
2 tsp. Rosemary Garlic Rub, or any all purpose seasoning that's good on vegetables
2 tsp. garlic powder and a sprinkle of salt
1 large onion, diced small
1/2 tsp. Spike seasoning (optional but good)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 T minced garlic (or less)
12-16 oz. chopped chard leaves (about 5-6 cups chopped chard, you could also use other greens like spinach, collards, or kale. The cooking times might be longer for some greens.)
2 T finely chopped fresh chives or sliced green onion
1/2 cup low fat sour cream (don't use fat free)
1/2 cup 2% greek yogurt
3/4 cup low fat cottage cheese curds (put the cottage cheese in a fine strainer and rinse with cold water to get the cheese curds)
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese plus about 1/4 cup more for topping the gratin
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Wash the outside of the spaghetti squash if needed, then cut off the stem and blossom end, stand squash upright, and using a large chef's knife, carefully cut in half lengthwise. Use a sharp spoon to scrape out seeds and the slimy material that surrounds them, and discard. Rub cut sides of squash with about 1/2 T olive oil for each half, then sprinkle each with 1 tsp. Garlic Powder and a bit of salt. Spray the roasting pan with non-stick spray, Put squash on baking sheet and pour 1/4 cup water around bottom of squash. Roast squash about 45-50 minutes, or until it separates easy into strands when pulled with a fork. Let squash cool for a few minutes, then shred into spaghetti-like strands.

While squash cooks, wash chard leaves if needed and spin dry or dry with paper towel. In two batches, stack up chard leaves on top of each other and slice into thin ribbons, then turn the cutting the board the other way and slice again into small pieces. Chop onion.

Heat 1 T olive oil in heavy frying pan, add chopped onions, season with Italian seasoning and black pepper, and saute until onion is softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook about 1 minute more, then add chopped chard all at once. Cook chard about 1-2 minutes, turning a few times. until it's wilted to about half the size it was. (The chard shouldn't be completely cooked, since it will cook more in the gratin.) Turn off heat.

Put 3/4 cup low fat cottage cheese in a fine strainer and rinse with cold water until only the cheese curds remain, then let drain. Spray a glass or crockery gratin dish with non-stick spray or olive oil.

Using a large fork, gently mix the chopped chives or green onion and shredded spaghetti squash into the onion/chard mixture. Combine the greek yogurt, drained cottage cheese curds, Parmesan cheese, and beaten egg and mix into the chard/spaghetti squash mixture. Then put the combined ingredients into the gratin dish, and press down so it's evenly distributed in the dish. Sprinkle top with about 1/4 cup more Parmesan cheese.

Bake about 30-35 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbling and cheese is browned on top. Serve hot.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Macarons 2 Ways

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. Macarons were definitely a challenge. After reading and re-reading other people's trials, tribulations, tips and successes I made two batches with pretty good results.

The first batch were plain Almond Macarons with White Chocolate-Blueberry Ganache. I found them overwhelmingly sweet and could only eat one every few hours, which may make this the perfect dessert for me. Nevermind that I spaced the timing out by eating one with breakfast and one after dinner.

I was a little more adventurous with the second batch and attempted to create Coconut-Almond Macarons by processing then drying coconut. The coconut still felt kind of oily, so I didn't add much to the macronage and as as result the flavor was barely there. To make up for it I added the leftover coconut and some coconut extract to the Lime Curd I used for the filling. These macarons were less sweet (yay!), but I need to keep trying fillings as Coconut-Lime Curd was too oozy to hold the shape.

To summarize all the tips for your attempts, the keys to success are supposed to be: aging your egg whites a few days to remove some of the liquid, having them at room temperature, beating the whites to soft peaks adding sugar and beating the mixture to very stiff peaks again before adding the confectionery sugar/almond flour, deflating the mixture satisfactorily and then layering your baking pans and cooking on their bottom side. Be careful with that last step, baking pans are no longer easy to remove from the oven when used upside down.

Once I finish eating the new dozen, which I'm happy to share if you live nearby, I'm all ready to go on a macaron tour of NY to try some professional ones for comparison's sake. Who's in?

Claudia Fleming’s Macarons
(reduced to use 2 egg whites thanks to Audax Artifex…this makes approximately 12 macarons)

.75 cup and 2.5 tspns Confectionery Sugar
.75 cup and 2.5 tspns Almond Flour (I used Trader Joe’s almond meal and sifted a few times)
2.5 tspns Granulated Sugar (superfine/castor is ideal)
2 Egg Whites (room temperature)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Piped and Ready (Batch 1)

Finished without too much sticking to the parchment paper!

The guts! They have feet, which is another sign of some success.
A trio of super-sweet treats!Batch 2

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bars i.e. Twix

I saw this homemade Chocolate Caramel Shortbread a month ago and vowed to make it after Spain and once I had people to share the bars with... After all I love Twix and the recipe looked pretty simple. Last Tuesday I decided Carielle's Friday birthday gathering would be the perfect opportunity.

It should have been easy. Shortbread is a cake walk with the mini-food processor. Melting chocolate, even in the microwave like I did, is a no brainer. And I've made caramel before with success. Unfortunately this recipe had me cursing the stove (the first time in 3 years my rooommate has ever heard this happen apparently).

For reasons I can't determine my caramel went very wrong; it was a bubbling mass topped with separated butter that greased my entire oven top while I frantically tried to get the whole thing to congeal into a usable state. In the end I poured off the butter and managed to salvage a tasty, though slightly overchewy, mass of caramel for the bars. Not ideal.

Luckily the bars still tasted decadent and delicious, especially if I let them come to room temperature for about 4 hours. When I revisit the recipe I plan to sub a different caramel recipe for layer 2 - a normal one that uses a candy thermometer. These bars are worth a try but be cautious. If you figure out how to NOT screw up the caramel please let me know and, oh, don't cut the bars until they are room temperature or the chocolate will crack.

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread (from the same blog but not the one she made)
Makes 12

½ cup butter, plus extra for greasing
Generous 1 cup all purpose flour
Generous ¼ cup superfine sugar

Filling and topping
¾ cup butter
Generous ½ cup superfine sugar
3 tbsp dark corn syrup
14 oz/400 g canned sweetened condensed milk
7 oz/200 g semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Grease a 9-inch/23-cm square, shallow cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Place the butter, flour, and sugar in a food processor and process until it starts to bind together. Press into the prepared pan and level the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and condensed milk in a heavy-bottom saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 6-8 minutes, stirring until very thick. Pour over the shortbread and let chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours, or until firm.

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Set over a saucepan of gently simmering water and stir until melted. Let cool slightly, then spread over the caramel. Let chill In the refrigerator for 2 hours, or until set. Cut the shortbread into 12 pieces and serve.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vietnamese Chicken Pho a.k.a. "Pho Ga"

Last month immediately before Spain I took the plunge and signed up for The Daring Kitchen Challenges...Making Vietnamese Chicken Pho a.k.a. "Pho Ga" was my first project. The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

For me Pho's golden broth is a soothing elixir that helps ward off colds, soothes hangovers and temporarily cures minor troubles like heartache. It brings back dozens of car rides to Pho So 1 in Jim's 3,000 GT during college. I always eat it with way too much S'richa, by accident, so my nose runs endlessly throughout the meal. Charming, I know.

Making Pho was exciting and intimidating, even if I didn't go with the made from scratch option. The biggest obstacle for me was finding star anise; I went to TEN grocery stores on Saturday and finally tracked it down at Eli's Vinegar Factory. After all that effort, I felt strongly that the Pho should taste like liquid gold. The end result was quite good and I think my ability to prepare it can only improve. My main complaints were the cloudiness of the pre-made stock and not having Thai Basil. These things should be fairly easy to remedy when I try this again and it is only a matter of time until I do that!

If you like Pho Ga definitely try this recipe. It's actually quite easy.

Vietnamese Chicken Pho
Recipe Source: Jaden of Steamy Kitchen
Preparation Time: 45 cooking time + 15 minutes to cook noodles based on package directions
Servings: Makes 4 servings

For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
½ onion
1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce (A note on fish sauce – I prefer the Three Crabs brand. Choose a fish sauce light in color…it should look like brewed tea. Anything darker than that (looking like Coca Cola) is inferior quality.)
1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)

2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice

1.To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning. Char ginger and onion.
2.In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.
3.Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
4.Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.
5.Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
6.Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.
7.Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
8.Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.